Lightweight Boat Races

The Championship Course

4 minute read
Words Row360
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 29.03.24

Cambridge overcome choppy conditions to deliver two comprehensive victories in the Lightweight Boat Races.

Lightweight Women

The Light Blues leapt out to a half length lead, rating a little higher than their rivals, but incurred repeated warnings from Umpire Sarah Winkless. Earlier in the day Oxford lost the coin toss and Cambridge chose Middlesex. Cox Kate Crowley squeezed Oxford wide coming into the first bend around Fulham Football Club.

Photo OUBC Lightweight Women
Credit Benedict Tufnell

As the two crews approached the Mile Post it looked like a done deal. Cambridge had a commanding open water lead, and by Harrods cox Crowley moved across to nullify Oxford’s upcoming Surrey advantage.

Under Hammersmith Bridge Umpire Winkless warned both crews, and shortly after warned Cambridge. Crowley went wide and Oxford found better water by steering tight around the Surrey Bend. Oxford saw an opportunity and began creeping back into contention.

As the two crews shot the halfway mark the gap had narrowed. The Dark Blue bow started to nibble alongside Cambridge’s stern. Chunky conditions along Chiswick Eyot tested the increasingly fatigued rowers, yet despite some ragged bladework Oxford continued to inch back.

At Chiswick Steps, Cambridge’s once open water lead had shrivelled to just half a length. Nerve-testing times for Cambridge Lightweight Coach Bronya Sykes.

Photo CUBC Lightweight Women
Credit Benedict Tufnell

“The race isn’t done until you cross the line, we respect our opponents and there’s always that possibility that they could row through,” said Sykes after the race. “That said, I was confident in our base rhythm and I was confident in what we could do going into the finish. I trusted they’d execute.”

With the course soon swinging back in Cambridge’s favour and the Oxford resolve fast waning, the Dark Blue comeback stalled. At the Bandstand the Light Blues led by a length of open water, which they extended all the way to the finish.

“Very proud. It means as much, and maybe more, than my own Boat Races,” said Sykes, a multiple Boat Race winner and CUBC Women’s President in 2022.

“I wasn’t as stressed as I anticipated I’d be,” said Cambridge cox Kate Crowley. “It was definitely a surprise when Oxford came back on us. It made winning so much sweeter – to have had that battle in the middle – it felt like we earnt it.”

Five lengths to Cambridge, who finished in a time of 23:04, and a valiant effort by Oxford 15 seconds behind them.

Photo CUBC Lightweight Women
Credit Benedict Tufnell
Lightweight Men

In the Men’s Lightweight Boat Race Oxford were seeking their first win since 2021. Nervous moments before the start line cannot have been eased by faulty equipment. Oxford’s strokeman, Isaac Throsby, required the assistance of Matthew Pinsent, who delivered a half spacer for Throsby’s rattling gate.

The experience of the Light Blues showed right from the get-go. (Six of the Cambridge crew have Lightweight Boat Race experience, and five of them won the event last year.) Cambridge were in a hurry, mercilessly leaving the Dark Blues trailing within a minute of the start. A clash looked imminent as the two crews neared one another but Umpire Ciaran Hayes kept them apart.

Photo OUBC Lightweight Men
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Oxford’s diminishing overlap disappeared and they slipped further behind along the Fulham Reach: Cambridge marching out to two lengths of clear water. The Dark Blues’ bladework looked sludgy and lacklustre as the race progressed towards Hammersmith.

Heinous conditions welcomed the crews as they ploughed through the rough stuff in the second half of the course. It had no significant bearing on the result. Another win for Cambridge, this time by five and half lengths.

Photo CUBC Lightweight Men
Credit Benedict Tufnell

“We knew they had a fast start, so that wasn’t surprising,” said Noah Pingul, who raced in the two seat for Oxford. “They had a good race and executed it very well. They are a quality crew with a lot of good returners. We knew the challenge was going to be tough. It’s a shame we couldn’t get it done today. Hats off to them.”

Under Chiswick Bridge Light Blue celebrations ensued. Homerton College’s Gianluca Vartan showing the utter exhaustion and exhilaration typical of a Boat Race victory.

Photo CUBC Lightweight Men
Credit Benedict Tufnell